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Diversity Lioness misfire?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Graylorne, Mar 20, 2015.

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  1. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    I'm a bit upset atm. Here I was writing Lioness in the hope of creating a fantasy adventure with POC and gay people. The first review was 5 stars, but the second will be the exact opposite.
    I don't even know how to react to it. I won't, probably, but it is so counter to what I wanted.
    Read it here.

    Comments, please, to get it into perspective.
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Ouch, that's gotta hurt a bit.
    I haven't read Lioness myself, so I can't comment on it. What I get from the reviewer though is that they probably have expectations or frames of reference that differ very much from yours and from what your book does.

    I haven't really had anyone review my work, so I haven't had to deal with anything like this, and I can't give any advice on it. I expect I'll get reviews like this as well, provided I get my work out there. I'm not looking forward to it, but hopefully there will be good reviews too and the people I've written my story for will enjoy it.

    Best of luck dealing with this, and hopefully you'll have some better reviews soon. :)
     
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  3. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I haven't been published ever, nor have I read your book, but to put it bluntly I can't understand people who review books they haven't read ar least a half. I think it is too presumptious as all books usually have the first third of them teaching you about the world and the characters, and the full plot is not yet revealed. The "black powerhouse of brawn' can be a thorn is some people's eyes, but the point that the person has a problem with your world building is probably more personal than anything else. It is your choice how you're going to portray the people, and so what? If he feels ofended it is his problem that he can't discern a fantasy world from the real one. And that your prefereance how to portray black-skinned people is not your actually view on real people. I say don't sweat it too much - someone is always going to conplain no matter how you write it. Not ecery book is for every person. Lioness sounds like a great book to me and I can't wait to get the chance to read it.
     
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  4. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I just bought your book for my iPad's Kindle App, Graylorne. Give me a few days to read it and see if I disagree with that reviewer.

    I can confidently say I have no problem whatsoever with the concept of a sexy black female warrior, especially if she's the heroines. Lots of white and other non-black women get to be sexy warrior heroines in this genre, so it's only fair to see black heroines receive the same treatment. The "big powerhouse" trope is the only trope I see that might be construed as offensively masculinizing, but on the other hand it does make sense for a warrior race. And I presume she's the love interest anyway?

    As for the cover art, I agree that it whitewashes your heroine, but your reviewer (who frankly sounds to me like a social justice troll) should take that up with the cover artist.
     
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  5. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Ouch. Well it's clear that you didn't intend any offense, and the reviewer was a little harsh. However, I think it's important for you to recognize that he/she does actually have some good points couched in that barbed language and I think the best thing you can do is to ignore the tone and listen to the message itself. And that message is: despite your good intentions you have fallen prey to unintentional racism and authorial "blind spots". This is something that can happen when you write about people whose perspectives differ from your own. I don't have time right now, but later I'm going to come back and go point-by-point and try to do my best to rephrase the criticism in a more helpful way.

    There are nuances to this issue that, being white, you might not be aware of. So I don't think this is something that you can just handwave away. Good intentions or no, there is a problem here and it should be addressed.

    I agree. Graylorne, fact is your cover artist let you down. HARD. Never work with them again. However, I would not advise that you dismiss the reviewer as a "social justice troll". They actually have good points you'd do well to listen to, as I will elaborate later.
     
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I have to say that reading the review, I didn't come away thinking highly of your handling of race and gender. Among other things, it's always a bit shaky to use magic as an explanation for why men or women or people of a certain real-world-ethnic-parallel behave a certain way. That gets complicated, so I won't say much without having read the story. But right off the bat, I was put off by connecting black skin to blue eyes, with what she calls a "militant matriarchy," and even by the word "big." Couldn't the black people of your world have been more . . . normal?
     
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  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm sure any of these things people may pick up on weren't intended intentionally in any way. However, I think having beta readers from different backgrounds might help in the future to avoid these kind of issues cropping up. It seems the reviewer almost exclusively focused on your world-building and not much on the story. I also agree with Reilith that I don't understand doing a review of a book the reviewer's not finished with yet.

    I'm worried that this may keep you from trying more diverse fiction in the future because this might prove to be an example of why a lot of writers tend to be afraid to write diverse casts. It's stepping out of a comfort zone and they feel it's better to just play it safe and let other writers worry about diversity. I do admire you for doing your best to create a diverse world and to try something different.

    This brings up a good point though. Should writers shy away from writing diverse characters if they get backlash like this? Is it kind of proving those who say "I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't?" (We had an example from another thread of writer's eventual choice was "I don't want to deal with it.") I would hope the answer to these questions would be a resounding "No."

    I have lots of different kinds of characters in my stories. One of my main characters in a current project is a tall, bald woman from an Asian-like country who is good at finding weak spots on monsters with her fists. Because she fights with her hands, am I going to get backlash? I would think from teaching so many Japanese martial arts students throughout my years (teaching them English, I mean) that it's fine for me to focus on a character like this. But others may see it as stereotyping Asians at being good at martial arts. In truth, she's just good at punching the shit out of monsters because she studied their weak points for years and years.

    All in all, while I think we should all attempt to create diverse characters, I guess we all have to be wary that some people view our stories through a different lens than we may.

    Graylorne, I'm sorry you got a bad review, but I hope this helps you learn in some way and doesn't discourage you from trying more daring ideas in the future.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2015
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  8. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Yes, that. Without having read the book, going primarily off the race-describing excerpts, I think you have run into some problematic points. In general, I don't think it's a good idea to ascribe objective differences in physiognomy or magic to human races in fantasy. Why are the magical warlock people white(ish)? Why is the magic used by the black people "bad"? And why do they have blue eyes, anyway... I think Devor covered the issues with creating gendered personalities in a single culture, but I would like to add that there is a harmful stereotype about the "strong black woman", who is considered aggressive and unfeminine. Making an entire people follow this trope is not a good idea.

    I think that human "races" in fantasy need to include a wide variety of behavior from all races--there shouldn't be a racial imbalance among heroes, villains, strong characters, weak characters, etc. Setting up race-specific natures or personalities is not the same as creating a culture, and I think you're just opening yourself up to immensely problematic themes.

    That having been said (not as eloquently as I would like, typing this from my phone), writing a problematic book does not make you a bad person, if you were unaware of these implications. However, remaining unaware really isn't an option. For your next book, it would be a good idea to think about messages and implications, and run your worldbuilding by as many semi-objective people as possible.

    (I'd also like to say that I think that as an author, you are responsible for what ends up in the cover of your book (As an indie, at any rate, publishers are another kettle of fish.) And also that readers, even reviewers, aren't obligated to read your entire book before passing judgement. I mean, first impressions are what they are. With something as huge as race perception, you need to make intent clear in the writing. Readers aren't able to read your mind, just the book.)
     
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  9. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Devor: They are normal. Blue eyes, see below. It is not at all that sort of militant matriarchy. In short - it was a patriarchy, ruled by warrior-shamans. The clans fought for power and dominion and in doing, decimated themselves. Then an outside enemy came and they had to flee. They came to another continent, where they were (barely) accepted. Their remaining shamans and wisewomen realized this had to change and so they wanted to bring some balance between the too aggressive men and the too comtemplative women. But they did something wrong and the result was the males became too meek and the females warlike (only not against each other). Now the women fight for their queen, or for the high king who gave them shelter. But they are honorable soldiers, no more.

    The warlocks (the 'white' people) have their own queerness. They fled for the same enemy and weren't allowed to practice in public anymore. So instead they went for (artificial) beauty. They didn't mate anymore, because their number couldn't grow larger than 99, so all had to wait for a death to produce a child by insemination.

    The point was that both groups of war refugees were being unnatural and that it became necessary to reconquer their original homes, so that they could go back to a normal life again.

    I ran this whole concept past six beta readers and an editor and no one saw any problem. They did read the whole book, as the blogger didn't (yet).



    (Mindfire:) I would appreciate your assistance, Mindfire. I'm not an American and some of the blogger's criticism I don't even know what is suggested.

    Re. the cover, the girl isn't as dark as I wanted. There aren't very many stock images that depict fierce black warrioresses, and probably not one that fit the composition. So actually she is the opposite of whitewashed, she's a white girl made darker. The armor was my idea, for I didn't want some quasi-native and half-naked tribal outfit, so I asked for sensible leather armor. The blue eyes were my idea, as this is another world with other peoples.

    Re. the white boys - perhaps I should have made them more Asian-like, but I thought I had made it clear it weren't European whites. No earthly race has skin ranging from alabaster-white to slate-gray.

    Re, the Jenkatans and the Thali, they aren't white either. The Jentakans are low-caste Chorwaynie and the Thali are more like Saami or if you wish, Inuit. And yes, I should have said that. The only caucasian whites are the Garthans, and they are most shady lowlives (meant as a tongue-in-cheek to all those white heroes).



    (Phil) I was thinking this is the reason why many fantasy writers keep to the good ol' medieval times.

    I'm trying to get grip on this thing. But I dearly would people read the whole book before putting their thoughts on the web.
     
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I was going to mention above that since you're from the Netherlands, you may not see as much focus on race issues as others see in other parts of the world. But that's why having beta readers from different backgrounds will help you in the future.

    But that can also be too safe. And I believe that's becoming the default defense for "I don't want to write diversity in fantasy because it's too hard, so I won't do it." As writers, I think we should always try new things and get out of our comfort zones. If some don't like what you're doing, you can learn from it and make your stories stronger in the future. Now that you know your world has some issues people are picking up on, you can address them and find others who might help you tackle them head on.

    I personally think writers who take risks are awesome. So I hope you get a lot of great feedback that will help you out for the future.
     
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  11. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Nimue: The magic used by the black people isn't bad. I never said it was bad. I said their shamans got power mad. Bit in the Shaka Zulu style. The women and their magic were perfectly fine.

    This is awful! Maud is big and strong, and 18 and playfully amorous, and pretty, and very very feminine. And a highly educated officer of the queen, trained as both liaison officer and commando. And she had blue eyes, like . And she get a very happy, joyous relation with one of the 'white' boys.

    I've been a teacher; I worked with refugees from all over the world. I wouldn't dream doing silly things. This whole book is based on equality.

    Sigh, I'm getting upset. Sorry, Nimue.
     
  12. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    That's the point. I had six, both from the US and the UK. And my editor is American, too.
     
  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I see. I'm just curious what elements they focused on when reading it? Did anyone raise any flags about the world-building aspects?
     
  14. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Not at all. But then, 'Lioness' is over 400 pages and at the blogger's 13% you've barely scratched the surface.

    I give you part from the review I got a few days earlier:
     
  15. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    @ Graylorne, having already read the first few chapters, I am already liking Maud. She may be a big strong warrior, but not unfeminine since several of the male characters comment on her beauty. So at least you've made good impressions on me.

    Unfortunately the fact that your heroine is recognizably black might subject her to harsher judgement that an equivalent white heroine. People seem to read stereotypes into black characters, and real living black people for that matter, without applying the same lens to their white counterparts.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2015
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  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    So, first, in my experience, I think black skin and blue eyes are an absolute no no as a race.

    White people have blue eyes. Everybody "knows" that blue eyes are "beautiful." If you're using blue eyes on a "likable" black person, you're making them likable by being more white. And . . . IRL, I've heard people talk about black people with blue eyes, and it's always been in the context of their ancestors being raped by white slave masters. It was the first thing I thought of.

    So, I would definitely cut that one out.

    As for the magic, I won't comment because I don't know how absolute it is, or the context. Even if it's ultimately problematic, it's probably just a worldbuilding fluke (at least, I would hope!) from trying to put magic everywhere. But I will say, usually, if you want to toy with people and behavior and magic, you should usually make a new race like orcs or elves to explore those possibilities, instead of messing with the counterparts of a real world people.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2015
  17. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Those people all have blue eyes.
    I took the trouble to google this subject, because I'm always careful not to offend. In this case it apparently didn't work.

    And re. the magic, did you read my earlier posts? I explained the magic and how & why.

    I don't mess or toy with people. I gave a tribe of dark-skinned men and women blue eyes which they could have had naturally. I had no idea of making them whiter. If I had wanted them white I would have written them white.

    Besides, if I used an orc, everybody would say orcs are synonym for black people and the net result would be even worse.
     
  18. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    Would they, though? That seems like a pretty big assumption, and anyways it would depend how you portray the appearances of your orcs. I doubt anyone would think your orcs were a synonym for black people if they had green skin.

    Back on topic, I would echo points that have been made that while this critique was perhaps rather harshly phrased and aggressive, it has some points, and you should really look over what they've said and consider the fact that you may have inadvertently made some wrong moves with regards to diversity and representation.
     
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  19. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    I didn't dream that one up; it was a series of discussions on another forum where there points were discussed.
    Of course you're right, it's a matter of how you portray your orcs.

    But that's beside the point. I want to write books about people and to me the color of their skin isn't very important. Their characters are, and the things they do.

    I'm quite willing to listen and learn, only several points literally make no sense to me, because I don't understand the insinuations.

    By now I get the blue eyes, I think.

    I get the mulattoes, too, although they aren't and I only said many of them were halfbreeds. Ah, now I reread it, they probably mean the word light-skinned To me that means white, Mediterranean white, but certainly not mulatto.

    So a lot of the problem is in the description of the peoples that goes with the map. I can rewrite that, no problem.

    Still, seeing this blog post is part of a Virtual Book Tour, it would be nice if she'd read the whole book before blogging.



    NB: I sent an email to the tour coordinator, with the request to pass on to the blogger that I am quite willing to discuss things and see what I can do to take the bad impression away.
    Seems to me the most reasonable thing to do.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2015
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Definitely seems like the sensible thing to do. :)
     
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